Friday, February 13, 2015

I Loved Los Angeles

*I really miss the LA swing scene and seeing the regulars all over So Cal on a nightly basis.

*We danced to all styles and era's of music and tempo's, even if we didn't have the skill too.

*We danced with our girlfriends all night, the term Dance Partner was foreign and lame.

*In The Neo-swing scene, it didn't matter how good you were at dancing, if you were a cool person, you were an equal.

*We remember the people who called themselves Lindy hoppers, they wore Blyers, and t-shirts and swiveled "on 1 and 2".

*If you were single, you asked the nicest or best dressed to dance, but not the best dancer.

*We socially danced Partner Charleston and nothing else for entire nights.

*Guys that changed partners every song were creepy as hell.

*We knew the difference between The Lindy, the Lindy Hop and Swing and never stepped foot in a class.

*In Hollywood, Hollywood style was a look not a dance style.

*We watch the first person to ever enter a jam solo, Jeremy Sutton​ at SF swing jam, and went home and practiced.

*We would block off a corner of the dance floor from tourist, so another couple had space dance and trade off.

*We started DJ battle trend in Swing, of Benny vs Shaw and NY vs KC at Memories ballroom.

*When someone said lets Shag, we asked which one.

*We started the first "solo Charleston" contest at Memories, everyone starting right foot forward starting on 1.

*Being a international dancer didn't mean shit, if your were stuck up or dressed like a clown.

*We competed for money in front of the public.

*Jam circles for the better dancers, and beginners took notes to be better.

*We danced faster then any other city, and if you didn't like it, gave you your money back.

*We loved to bust out as many free spins as possible, but were quick to say more then 2 is not partner dancing.

*No different then our old timers, we danced 7 nights a week and twice on Sunday.

*We hated being called Neo-Swingers and called ourselves Jitterbugs.

  Looking back 20 years, i really am proud to say, I was and will always be a Neo-Swinger!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A story about Leather Shoes

        I'm always thinking about things to write, sometimes i just want to focus historic topics, sometimes i want to speak my mind. I just wanted to write something quickly to let everyone know, i actually didn't know that many people were actually reading this blog.
         I hear all kinds of topics people bring up in the dance world which always create interesting topics, and what a great day we live in, when anyone start a blog like this and share something with the world.
      One topic that came up recently was a vegan dancer wanting to get a better shoe for a dance called the Balboa shuffle. Ideally, hard leather sole are the fastest but she wanted a shoe that was not animal products.          I honestly didn't know what to say, hell, why would i know? I wear regular old leather shoes, and love eating meat.
          This topic reminded me of story of one of the greatest modern day Tap dancers to have ever lived. Chance Taylor, who unfortunately passed away far to young and spent some time in San Pedro and that's where i would come to know him.
        Chance, was a deep guy that i loved hanging around. We would jam at Sacred Grounds Coffee House, and the spend hours sitting out front on the corner talking about philosophy, animals and life.
         He was very spiritual, living a vegan life. He didn't wear leather, eat meat and sitting before me was one of 3 (Savion Glover, Jason Samuels Smith) who held the future of Tap in their hands, according to Gregory Hines.

        I was impressived, shocked and humbled to have someone like him spending this time together.
 The biggest problem was that Chance could never find a quality tap shoe, that was man made. Apparently, he tried.....Chance, made an exception and would wear used taps, handed down to him from Savion.
        He was not purchasing any animal product, He was using what would be waste and it wasn't not for fashion....and that too me was one of the most common sense things I've heard from a vegan.



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Big Apple calls everyone should know!

The Dance that took the Nation by storm in 1937, starting in South Carolina and named after the Club in which the kids watched the young African American dancers, from the balcony.

As the dance spread, steps were added from one city, town to the next. I think I've documented well over a hundred....but these steps would be the essentials to get started and have hours of fun.

1. Lets Big Apple!
2. Get set---everyone circles up and hold hands
3. Right Foot in----tap 1..2...3...
4. Swing out!--- stepping right foot on 1 do the Charleston
5. Stomp ----right foot on 7
6. Double stomp----right foot 7 & 8
7. Pump Handle---right foot kicks on 7 & 8, hands in air Waa--Hoo!
8. double time -----add triple steps
9. Swing It High & Swing it Low---hands in air High and touch the ground Low
10. Truckin! Truck right, reverse etc..
11. Swingeroo--truck with Partner arm in arm
12. Face and Peck---right, left ,right, right - left, right ,left, left-right, left ,right, right
13. Scratch Flea's---itch 1,2,3,4
14. Big apple Snap---snap fingers in air on 3
15. cut the apple---double kick left,double kick right cross and turn...return
16. Boogie Back---clap on 2 back on 3
17. Boogie Forward
18. Greet the President---shake hands with Big smile truck around each other
19. Double (apple) ring---girls go in center and truck counter clockwise, Leads truck opposite
20. Frankenstein---guys truck into the middle for 8, then turn around and frankenstein towards follow.
21. sissy britches(rusty dusty)-first to partner then to corner..
22. spank your horsey (same as "spank the baby" but in place instead of a circle)
23. Posin! everyone pose!
24. organ grinder swing (lead drops to knee...follow circles lead)
25. birdie in a cage (same as organ grinder but standing)
26. bringing up the rear (truck in circle)
27. wipe the windshield ("tick-tocks" with arms mimicking windshield wipers up by your shoulders)
28. little sister (fall off the log variation)
29. joe louis (boxer nose spar thing and go to center and give an upper cut!)
30. Elephant Trail!(right arm through legs and behind, left goes forward)
31. London bridges

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Maharaja, Finding it for Hal...

        It started in the middle 1990's while i was interviewing old time dancers who had been in films during the 1930's and 40's. Always talking about the movies they were in, and trying to collect them all.

        During one of these interviews the legendary Hal Takier described film clips he had not seen of, or heard of since the time of filming. One of these movies i discovered at the UCLA archive titled "Boogie Woogie" from 1945. However there was still a Film he simply described to me as being "Arabian" or "Middle eastern" themed, he said "a short film", and it was "during the war". 

    I searched endlessly as i went through all my resources, nothing ever came up. As the months rolled along I would see Hal and Marge and try and get more information hoping he'd recall more information.

         I remember that i finally discovered the title, Maharaja from a book i got from Dwight Lapardis, on the Soundies Dist. of America (Short Films). that like others didn't mention any dancers at all, it just mentioned a band and a date filmed, So I added it my list of possibilities.

        My Collection of shorts and specifically soundies at this point was already pretty large, and i religiously scanned my 16mm Film collectors subscriptions. Some dealers only sold shorts and sometimes "lots of unknown" soundies, which is how i discovered Chool Song with Dean Collins. But still no Maharaja...

     I finally came in to contact with the film collector Mark Cantor and in our first exchange, i asked him about these titles, and he quickly remarked that "Maharaja" from 1943 had dancers in it, he knew this right away because it was one of his favorite soundies, and actually inside the Panaram Machine in his house. Mark was excited to hear Hal was still alive, and really looked forward to interviewing him. 

       It was such a great moment for Hal and Marge to show the film on the screen at Bobby Mcgees for the first time, For everyone to see it in front of Hal, sitting there with his classic smiling grin…

       Since then, we have seen Maharaja, Hal and Betty influence dancers and scenes around the world. Dancers have recreated it on stage, and Teachers have have taken steps, tricks, and the style. Everyone has their reasons, but the impact Hal and Betty have is undeniable today.

    Thanks to the generosity of Mark Cantor, who was willing to share Maharaja from his collection, reuniting it to its dancers…


Friday, April 19, 2013

A Great Day in Lindy Hop

The "Great Day in Lindy Hop" photo was taken almost 10 years ago, Oct 9th, 2004, It was of course a recreation of a "Great Day in Harlem" from 1958. The location was Columbia University steps which was also Count Basie's 100 birthday celebration to held this weekend along with legendary musicians of the Basie Alumi.

A Great Day in Harlem 1958

All I can really remember was the intense undertaking to get so many people together, the focus being all the Dancers,Musicians,hostesses, Staff, and people who had ever gone to the Savoy Ballroom which operation from March 12, 1926 to July 10, 1958.

The Organizers did an amazing job of helping to shuttle many of the legends or "Old timers" around for the event. I recall there being a couple different photo's of the different generations, and then everyone together. One by one, crowd got larger, with reunions galore as these Old timers appeared for the photo shoot, with another shouting out their names, not having seen each other since "the Savoy days"!

Truly magical gathering... 

A Great Day In Lindy Hop

This Photo by Mike Thibault shows many of the Legends taking front and center.

This Photo by the Lindy Chef

Here is a partial list of some of the dancers included:
Frankie Manning ,Norma Miller ,Dawn Hampton ,Eleanor Watson (Whitey's Lindy Hopper, In Radio City Revels) ,Ruthie Rhinegold (Whitey's Lindy Hopper) ,
James Brown (Whitey's Lindy Hopper) , Midge Vercelli (Harvest Moon Ball Champion-One of only Four Non-Savoy dancers to win from 1935 to 1958) , Sugar Sullivan (Harvest Moon Ball Champion, Jivadeer, Rocket) , George Sullivan (Harvest Moon Ball Champion, Trained 10 Harvest Moon Ball Champions) , Sonny Allen (Harvest Moon Ball Champion, Founder of the Rockets) ,Gigi Brown (Harvest Moon Ball Champion, Mama Lou Parks Dancer, State Department Africa Tour) , David Butts (Harvest Moon Ball Champion, Mama Lou Parks Dancer, State Department Africa Tour) ,Gloria Thompson (Mama Lou Parks Dancer, State Department Africa Tour, Harvest Moon Ball Finalist, Savoy Dancer) ,
Coley Wallace (Last Living Savoy Ballroom Bouncer, Heavyweight Contender, starred in the movie the Joe Louis Story) , Helen Banks (Savoy Ballroom Dancer, Appeared in Soundies, Member of the Harlem Ski Team).

Thanks to hard work of Terry Monaghan, dance historian and activist, born 13 August 1943; died 26 June 2011.

Unfortunately,  The website for this CountBasie100 does not seem to exist anymore, so i don't have all the information to include on this more memorial day. One of the fun things i remember was between Frankie and Norma is Kermit the frog, to represent Lennart Westerlund in Sweden, one of the founders of Herrang dance camp, because he could not make the trip.

This is a 11.7mb copy thanks to Mark Tabladillo
and if your interested in a downloading massive hight res


As i find out more, I will keep updating this information. I'll try and find a complete list of who took part Along with all the hard working people that made this who event happen.
I know for a fact and the crew were the backbone, awesome dedicated bunch to keeping the Lindy Hop alive. Elliot D, as we know him, is simply the most incredible person work with, his energy and passion helps bring so many people together. Without him, events like these simply can't happen.

So Please feel free to contact me, and help me update this page, into a proper thanks to all that made it happen. Thanks, Peter

PS. I was working that weekend, doing lectures and teaching so my mind was elsewhere, after the photo i ran off...but maybe you can find me?


Update: Took this from :

A Great Day in Lindy is a project of Springboard Productions, LLC and

About this Site
On Saturday, October 9, 2004 over 400 Lindy Hoppers from around the world gathered on the steps of Columbia University's Earl Hall for a historic photo shoot. The results of this effort is a truly historic "family portrait" of the Lindy Hip featuring some of its most influential and important figures.

This website has been created to collect, organize and verify historical data for each person who was in the photo. The information housed and collected on this site will be used in an accompanying booklet that will be released with the photo. The booklet will serve as a key that will identify each person in the photo and provide a short description of who they are.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shorty George Snowden (July 4, 1904 - May 1982)

       July 4th 2004 was the centenary birthday of George "Shorty" Snowden, one of the most influential dance figures in US popular culture, yet one of the most unknown. Primarily responsible for the creation of the Lindy Hop, better known in the UK as the original form of "the jive," his precise role in this respect and how it links to his widespread dance legacy has so far escaped serious consideration.

Hundreds of thousands of people dance the Lindy Hop's descendent forms today, ranging from the baroque mannerisms of competition "ballroom jive" and the ultra laid back US West Coast Swing style to the gymnastically pretentious European Acrobatic Rock 'n' Roll or the now barely recognised, but actual, Lindy Hop legacy embedded in Mambo and Salsa. It is unlikely however that more than a few of these practitioners could detail where it all began. Even those who identified Snowden as the key innovator would still be hard pressed to name his partner, which is extraordinary considering the importance still attached to apposite "partnering" in the derivative forms of the Lindy.

Shorty Snowden Dancers from Smalls Paradise

         UK discussions concerning the origins of the dance rarely venture beyond vague accounts of American GI's bringing the "jitterbug" to the UK during World War Two and news reports of 1950's "rioting" teenagers dancing in the cinema aisles when the Billy Haley films introduced the dance to a new generation. Apart from their limited grasp of the Lindy tradition, such viewpoints are indicative of the way the dance is often isolated from wider artistic movements or significance. Even in competition ballroom dance, "the jive" that more accurately is called ballroom jive occupies a solitary position as the only "American" example in the Latin and American category. Yet its 1928 moment of inception was part of a critical surge of American dance creativity in which rhythm tap, contemporary and other forms made striking "modern" developments. Attuned to the urban and industrialized rhythms of twentieth century living they liberated themselves from the exotica of the past by concentrating on enhanced technically expressive movements.


At the beginning of July 1928, Snowden and his first partner, Mattie Purnell, were several days into a Harlem dance marathon at the Rockland Palace ballroom. Experimenting with current dances ranging from the Collegiate, a kind of Charleston partner dance, to the Lindbergh Hop, that reputedly consisted of a specific Charleston type step, Snowden at one point lost his grip on Purnell's hand. She spun away but he reached out and pulled her back whilst masking the "mistake" with a couple of fancy steps.

Rockland Palace

       The audience roared with approval, so they did it again, but deliberately and without letting go thus unleashing a range of new fluid and expressive movements to four-beat sequences. Hitherto prevailing two-beat "Ragtime" and "Jazz" steps were rephrased in line with the parallel developments in jazz music that were similarly experimenting with lengthened time signatures.

      Following the marathon, Snowden and Purnell apparently were considering calling their dance innovation Walk That Broad. By September though Snowden had rechristened it The Lindy Hop when appearing in Harlem's Lincoln Theatre, with a new partner, Pauline Morse. Two months later, Snowden had his own dance company on stage, three couples of which appeared in the short film "After Seben." It seems that differences over technique saw the replacement of that group with a new line up by the beginning of 1930. It featured a fresh talent on the scene George "Twistmouth" Gannaway, who introduced early versions of air steps into the dance. The inclusion of another New Jersey couple later that year led to the company appearing in the Broadway production "Singing the Blues" in 1931, of which one reviewer commended "….the wildly torso-tossing dancing couples in the dive scene." That group too fell apart in the following year and Snowden began dancing with his best known partner Big Bea, in two Bill Robinson touring productions. According to Mura Dehn, who arrived on the scene in 1930, Big Bea who was "…. twice his size, would throw him up in the air, down on the floor, pick him up and throw him down again, whilst Shorty, seemingly unaware, would struggle to complete his steps, fidgeting in her arms in the air."

the original front of Smalls Paradise

Previous dance fashions came from Europe or were typically traceable to the northward African-American migrations of the turn of the century. The Castle Walk for example emerged from the One Step that itself was only a "cleaned up" version of the Turkey Trot that had been soundly condemned by the Pope. Snowden's New York heritage, from his mother's side of the family was indelibly marked on this first "big American city" popular dance. As a partner dance the Lindy was consciously "modern" and "historical" in that its drive for enhanced technical expression led to its encyclopedic referencing to past and contemporary dance forms. In this respect the Lindy became the culmination of two major traditions- the African-American dances that redefined the perception of the black body in the face of racial disparagement, and the European ballroom tradition that had re-defined society as "modern" nuclear couples rather than complex patterns of intricate kinship groups as in the pre-Waltz forms.

Snowden's mother, Mary, whose hard-hitting right hand Snowden remembered even when interviewed in the 1950's, was the dominant figure in the family. Born in lower Manhattan, they moved to Harlem by 1910, by which time it appeared his father had left home. In trying to reconcile his mother's strict Episcopalian expectations with the exuberant, and not always legal, aspirations of his friends on 135th Street, George Snowden's early days were not always easy. Before 1920 he was told he could never dance again after breaking both ankles ice-skating, and by 1920 he was an inmate in "reform school". Street life in Harlem however could have a positive side. Contrary to the lurid accounts in the Stearns' book Jazz Dance, joining the local Jolly Fellows social club apparently constructively re-focused his energies. He became a shipping clerk and, overcoming his former injuries, one of the fastest Charleston dancers in the locality. Snowden and Purnell, "couple no. 7" in the marathon where they took the first Lindy steps, were encouraged throughout by the support of The Jolly Fellows, who they represented.

Snowden became an unequalled Lindy maestro in its basic social, competitive and performance modes. He exploited the unique character of this dance that makes it as riveting to watch in social dance settings as on stage when danced well. Dehn asserted Snowden's " …. routines became Savoy classics; his spur of the moment innovations seemed inexhaustible. This little man held sway over the roughest crowds, commanding the respect and attention due a master." At the centre of this new dance excitement Snowden won "national" Lindy Hop championships, with different partners, at the Roseland Ballroom in 1930 and the Savoy Ballroom in 1931.

The ballet world seemed especially entranced. Whilst sitting in the London Savoy, Diaghilev informed Harold Acton that the Harlem Savoy's music and dance was "immeasurably superior." Acton later observed how the Savoy dancers "…. bodies emitted bright hot rays of rhythm. Every limb was brought into play, supple, sensitive and controlled." Despite his impact Snowden remained at odds with the Savoy management. Quite apart from disliking the street dances of the day, the manager Charles Buchanan - who claimed to have devised the title "Lindbergh Hop" in a derogatory sense - was no doubt dubious about Snowden's social background. The ballroom continued not acknowledging the Lindy Hop, despite a reconciliatory gesture to Snowden after refusing him Savoy endorsement for the marathon, and the growing although largely unreported popularity of the dance there. The Lindy Hop could not be stopped though, and when the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, recruited Snowden's dancers in 1932 they took the dance to many different parts of the USA.
Swing was becoming big business.

Shorty George and Big Bea

To forestall other ownership claims for the Lindy, the Savoy Management eventually engaged in surreptitious myth construction to tie the dance to the ballroom. Contemporary press reports of the 1928 marathon had described Snowden's innovation as a departure from the Lindbergh Hop, that actually did reference the first solo flight across the Atlantic. Picking up on popular mythology that confused the later Lindy Hop with Lindbergh, the inception of the dance was now merged with cross Atlantic flight in the new versions. Albeit six years after the event, Snowden began "generously" attributing the inspiration for his innovative marathon step to Charles Lindbergh, presumably not to be excluded from the new story about how the Lindy was created. Exclusion was actually on the cards. At this time as his former mentor, Herbert "Whitey" White, founder and President of The Jolly Fellows and a Savoy bouncer, began recruiting a new generation of Lindy Hoppers for a dance company that would be more compliant with the Savoy's needs. Eventually Snowden's group relocated to Small's Paradise Club on Seventh Avenue. There is little evidence though to support the Stearns contention of a major clash between 'old' and "new' generations over "air steps" that Leon James is cited for in Jazz Dance. It's possible that Stearns misunderstood a late 1950's dismissive comment by Snowden about current lindy/jitterbug dancing being all acrobatics with insufficient grounding in floor steps.
The Worlds Famous Savoy Ballroom

Snowden's group however held their own. In 1935 Shorty and Big Bea appeared in an Eddie Cantor film and in the following year The Amsterdam News was still describing Snowden as "King of the Savoy." In 1937 they were a major success in the Cotton Club under the direction of Leonard Reed. Everyone danced "The Shorty George" step that Snowden innovated, the only Lindy Hopper in fact to have a step named after him. The Count Basie number "The Shorty George" though was not named after Snowden. "Shorty George" was a popular mythical figure in African-American folk law as the early 1920's blues number of the same name testifies. It's possible that Count Basie Orchestra 1938 recording however, was a measure of recognition for Snowden who retired from professional dancing on doctor's orders that year, as indicated the following year by Erskine Hawkins Orchestra's recording of "Saboo," (an alternative name for the "Shorty George" step). Fred Astaire possibly confused this issue in a 1942 film by dancing and singing about the Shorty George, whereas Frank Sinatra sang only about the mythical "Shorty George." The step was also a favorite of the Andrews Sisters, who can be seen dancing it in the film "Buck Privates."

Snowden concluded his dancing career as modestly as it began. Regulars, such as Eva Zirker one the of the few "white" members of the Savoy's 400 Club recall his quietly insistent tale of how he created the Lindy that suggested a concern with historical accuracy rather than self promotion. He opened a dance studio for a while in Harlem, but increasingly spent time in Queens dancing socially in venues like "Big George's" club in Corona, where he continued to be in great demand as a partner. He spoke warmly of other dancers, white ones included, especially Paul Draper who influenced him a lot and the lindy hopping Harry Rosenberg, thus sustaining the Swing ethos of integration. When the Lindy, in the guise of "Rock 'n' Roll Jitterbug-Jive" made a third comeback in the 1950's, the purist in him seemed offended by the unskilled enthusiasm of many of the newer dancers. Meanwhile he cared for an invalid wife in his later years, but still went dancing with Little Bea whenever he could.
Snowden died in Far Rockaway, Queens in May 1982 as an inevitable new generation of enthusiasts emerged. Although numerically few when compared with previous "renewals" they were determined to rescue the original form from its subsequent descendants. Like other major turning points in the history of the Lindy, this new interest seems to have been part of a wider dance upheaval such as the contemporary revival of Argentinean Tango. The international character of this 1980's interest was replaced by a specifically US, but even larger, mid 1990's surge of interest. The latter put the Lindy back into Hollywood films, on the Broadway stage and in many other performance contexts alongside a major renewal in social dancing, but Snowden's name was mentioned briefly at best.

    Of all the twentieth century American seminal dance figures (Balanchine for American ballet,  Isadora Duncan in Modern, Jack Cole for Jazz Show Dance, Bill Robinson for Rhythm Tap Dance etc.) Snowden remains the least known. Fortunately the stubborn persistence of the Lindy tradition suggests that not only will it survive long enough to be taken seriously, in the way that George Snowden would have wished for, but that his diverse legacy will finally be adequately acknowledged. Hovering in the background also is the still unresolved issue of whether an acrobatic Lindy derived dance will be accepted for the 2012 Olympics, a move that Snowden undoubtedly would not have approved.

Terry Monaghan
Note: The critical points made in the article of Marshall and Jean Stearns book Jazz Dance, are only intended as minor corrections to an invaluable book that anyone interested in this subject should read.

Photos added by Jassdancer

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jazz and the Italian Connection
By Bruce Boyd Raeburn

During a recent academic conference held in New
Orleans there occurred an exchange which might
best be described as droll but which was intrinsically
didactic. The setting was a panel discussion on jazz,
and the panelists were all historians who were
actively researching and publishing on the subject.
Following the various presentations which were
devoted to the life-stories of musicians such as
Sidney Bechet, Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton. and
Lester Young, a gentleman from the back of -the
audience asked: "What about the ODJB, the first
band to record "jazz?" A hush fell over the room,
attended by looks of horror and pity emanating from
the podium. For a moment the panelists seemed
startled, until one launched into the by now almost
perfunctory response to the question, stressing that
the circumstances which had permitted the Original
Dixieland Jazz Band to make the first jazz recording
were anOther indication of the racist bias of the
recording industry and suggesting that, beyond that,
the question should not be dignified with further
elucidation. Somewhat nonplussed, and duly
ambushed, the gentleman returned to his seat, no
closer to an answer (or serious consideration) than
he had been at the outset. Yet one can only wonder
how historians who are trained to ask hard questions
could have contented themselves with such a
brusque and simplistic response to an apparently
sincere request to hear their views on the matter of
the ODJB and its influence. Had the gentleman been
better prepared to make a case for the importance of
the ODJB, he could clearly have done so, for the
evidence on their behalf is quite impressive. if
presently obscure. Why, then, should a question on
the ODJB be dismissed as 'politically incorrect?

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band .In Chicago in 1916, just before their historic trip to New York. Pictured. left to right, are Tony Sbarbaro,
drums; Eddie Edwards, trombone; Larry Shields, clarinet; Nick LaRocca, comet; and Henry Ragas, piano.
Photo from Harry Shields Collection

The answer can be traced back ·to the earliest jazz
studies In the late 1935 and to the aesthetic
predilections of the men who wrote them.
Jazz history has often been written from the
perspective of the "great man," emphasizing the
influence of musicians who enjoy widespread critical
acceptance. especially in retrospect and ignoring
the role of "lesser-artists whose activities are ipso
facto less important. In the case of the ODJB,However
personalities also became a factor. When
Marshall Steams' "The History of Swing Music"
appeared in Down Beat in twenty parts between
1936 and 1938, objections from the leader of the
ODJB that Stearns had denigrated the band's
significance in the original development of jazz
began to circulate within the jazz press. LaRocca's
Ietters to Down Beat, Metronome, and Tempo in the
fall of 1936 all argued that the ODJB had invented
jazz and disputed Steams' claim (based on
conversations with members of the New Orleans
Rhythm Kings) that the Original Creole Orchestra

had been first. In a personal reply to LaRocca dated
January 11, 1937, Stearns complained that "you
failed to give colored musicians a break; and that is
why I exaggerated the other extreme, since the
public is inclined to believe you and musicians of
your opinion." While considerable attention was
given to the ODJB by Charles Edward Smith in
Jazzmen, an early American jazz history published in
1939, his interest in the ODJB was not typical of the
general trends among "Hot jazz collectors.  Most of
them preferred the recordings of louis Armstrong,
Duke Ellington, Bix Beiderbecke, Joe Oliver, or Jelly
Roll Morton, considering the earlier records by the
ODJB to be rhythmically "stiff" and a little too
cacophonous. Since all the early histories were
written by "hot jazz collectors, such aesthetic
predilections had a bearing on historical perceptions,
relegating the ODJB to "second-class' status
aesthetically and therefore historically. Some fifty
years after the fact it Is apparent that a reappraisal
of the ODJB and its influence is long overdue.
Indeed, the reaction of American jazz scholars to
the ODJB has been remarkably similar to that of the
Columbia Phonograph Company which made the
first aborted·attempt to record the band in January
1917. Consider the account given by H.C. Brunn in
The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (1960):

The Interweaving strains of jazz bounced
from wall to wall until the resultant
reverberations became one continuous din.
The recording director closed the door to his
office from the inside. A gang of carpenters,
who were building shelves hi the studio.
laughed 'and threw their tools about to
contribute to the bedlam. After two numbers
the musicians were paid their $250 and
ordered from the studio. Columbia had
washed its hands of jazz. (pp. 64-65)

Sheet music cover to the ODJB'a first big hit. Note the discrepancy
in titles-Victor was supposed to label the band's first release as
"Barnyard Blues' because two former members, Ray Lopez and
A1cide Nunez, had hurriedly published Livery Stable' under their
own names in Chicago, The failure of Victor to make the
substitution led to litigation between the contending parties. but
the cue was ultimately thrown out.
From the Nick LaRocca Collecti0n

But Columbia's attitude changed dramatically when
the band's "Livery Stable Blues,' recorded soon after
by Victor. surpassed the million-and"a-half sales
mark for that company within months of its release.
By August 1917 Columbia's ODJB version of
"Darktown Strutter's Ball" was vying for the attention
of record buyers on the shelves, and newspaper
advertisements for both Victor and Columbia
products by Maison Blanche in New Orleans show
how important they were as harbingers of a jazz
revolution which was only just beginning. Maison
Blanche left little doubt as to why "Livery Stable' was
so popular: "Here is positively the greatest dance
record ever issued. Made by New Orleans musicians
for New Orleans' people, it has all the 'swing' and
'pep' and 'spirit· that is so characteristic of the
bands whose names are now a by-word ,at New
Orleans dances. It is more proof that New Orleans
sets the pace for 'Wonderful' dance music--a fact
that is recognized and commented upon the country
over." The "Darktown" copy was comparable: 'It's
played by New Orleans boys, too, for here is where
'Jazz' music originated and it has been the craze
the country over." Mercantile hyperbole
notwithstanding, the overriding theme of these
advertisements is that the ODJB was representative
of New Orleans music and a model for further
development. As it happened, the influence of the
ODJB on New Orleans musicians, both white and
black, can be extensively documented and serves as
a useful counterpoise to the usual historical accounts.

The context for any discussion of an ethnic
"connection" to New Orleans musical culture, be it
Italian, Irish, Creole, German, Latin' American, or
African-American, is the process of transculturation
Which fused diverse traditions into a distinctively
regional blend. Demographic patterns which created
a "crazy quilt" of mixed neighborhoods also yielded
an extremely eclectic musical amalgam, and in a
town renowned for its festival traditions, all citizens
had access to the music which was performed on
the streets, at the camps at West End, and in the
cabarets and dance halls which fed the

Nick LaRocca on daddy's knee, well before the issue of the cornet came up.
Photo from the Nick LaRocca collection

Consequently, one of the essential
features of an Italian connection to New Orleans jazz
was that it was not intended for the sole enjoyment
of Italians but contributed instead to the
development of a New Orleans style of playing
improvised music,duly enriching it. WIthin the ODJB
there were Italians (LaRocca, Sbarbaro), Irish
(Shields). anQ English (Ragas, Edwards), but what
they played was a New Orleans sound which
exceeded the sum of its parts. Local reactions to the
recordings of the ODJB tended to be enthusiastic,
and far-ranging. John Wigginton Hyman (Johnny
Wiggs), by his own recollection, had first gravitated
to jazz after hearing Joe Oliver at subscription
dances at Tulane in 1916 and was applying what he
could pick up with the Invincibles, a string band
made up of middle-class youths from the uptown
area Yet it was hearing the ODJB that
revolutionized his conception of the music: "In
1917 the Original Dixieland Jazz Band released
their first. record on Victor. This was too much for
the Invincibles and we began to yearn to play
'real jazz." Throughout his long career Wiggs
rubbed shoulders with various Italian musicians
who shared his dedication to "real jazz," including
Tony Parenti, Charlie Scaglionl, Leon Roppolo,
Santo Pecora,and Sherwood Mangiapane,and
as a child he had played street comers with
young Joseph Manane for small change. For
him, the ODJB was a model for nascent jazzmen
to follow, and there is plenty of evidence to
suggest that he was not alone in this opinion.
The impact of the ODJB on black New
Orleanians was no less telling. When Dink
Johnson, a drummer and clarinetist who worked
with the Original Creole Orchestra, Jelly Roll
Morton, and Kid Ory, was interviewed by Floyd
Levin in 1950, he had some interesting
observations concerning his reaction to the
ODJB: ·1 was actually a drummer, you know. I
had always wanted to play the clarinet since
hearing Larry Shields with the Original Dixieland
Jazz Band." The effect of the ODJB's recordings
on the most popular black dance band in New
Orleans in 1917, Kid Ory's, is another case.!n
point. What was known as the Ory-Oliver band
included future stars such as Joe Oliver, Johnny
Dodds, and occasionally Louis Armstrong and
held forth at dance halls like the Economy and
Cooperators, where its popularity was unassailable.
Testimony by Manuel Manetta, the violinist in Kid
Ory's band. illustrates what happened throughout
the city in the wake of the ODJB recordings. The two
"readers' in the band were Oliver and Manetta, with
the latter serving as "straw boss' for Cry in 'the
selection of material and direction of the band. Yet
Manetta was fired because "Joe Oliver and Kid Ory
wanted to follow the format of the Dixieland Jazz
Band and use only five pieces." Prior to 1917, many
New Orleans dance bands either carried or were led
by violinists. After that year. violins all but
disappeared. Manetta ended up dropping violin,
offering saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and piano to
prospective employers. The success of the ODJB
through the medium of the phonograph completed
the revolution in dance-band instrumentation begun
by Buddy Bolden two decades earlier. supplanting
violinists with cornetists and standardizing 'the jazz band
lineup. The success of the ODJB vindicated
-taking' and fused the term -jazz' to the New Orleans

style of instrumental ragtime. collectively improvised,
which had been developing since the turn of the
century. The term itself became a rallying point for
New Orleans musicians of all ethnic and racial
backgrounds. creating conditions for the formation of
a community of interest in support of the new music.
which was perceived as a local product. While the
roots of jazz were undoubtedly nourished largely
within the African-American community (Which was
itself extremely diversified), its subsequent
development before 1917 was a more broadly
communitarian phenomenon, drawing on a variety of
musical cultures extant in New Orleans. Music. in
other words, brought people of all affiliations
together. in spite of the social conditions which were
often designed to keep them apart
In addition to the success of their records. the
ODJB were the first link between jazz and the youth
culture that emerged in the wake of the First World
War. Indeed, the band had caught the doughboys
going and coming. first as the hottest ticket in New

York City 1917·18 when the city served as a major
port of embarkation, and later in London in 1919 at
the Hippodrome and the Armistice Ball, where they
played for the returning servicemen and their
generals. The same celebration of the joys of self expression
that was present in jazz was also found
In the interpretation of Freud as a means to health
through the unrestrained libido or In the fashions of
the flapper, mutually reinforcing the reaction against
the formalism of the victorian Era Comparison of the
early musical experiences of Italians such as Nick
LaRocca or leon Roppolo with those of creoles of
color like Sidney Bechet or Freddie Keppard reveals
the operation of a generation gap which presaged
the general rebellion of youth in the 19208.
LaRocca's father forbade him to practice comet and
destroyed several, even though he himself was a
player. Roppolo came from a long line of Italian
clarinet virtuosi, who urged him to take up the violin
because there was no money to be made playing
clarinet in America Keppard rejected violin in order
to take up comet in the manner of Bolden. Bechet
started with clarinet but eventually gravitated to
soprano saxophone, largely because it enhanced his
ability to predominate in ensemble situations. In each
case, young players opted for faking over the more
traditional formal pedagogy which was prescribed by
their parents, creating similar situations in the
households of Italians and creoles of color. Jazz
was, after all, a musical vehicle for the expression of
personality, and the tribulations of the Roppolo and
Keppard families were later experienced by the
Beiderbeckes and the Toughs in Iowa and Illinois.
But there was one major difference. New Orleanians
such as Bechet, Keppard, LaRocca, and Roppolo
were reacting to the music they heard all around
them; Beiderbecke and Tough got their first
exposure by listening to ODJB records, which led
them to seek out other New Orleans bands such as
King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band and the New Orleans
Rhythm Kings in Chicago.
There is still much to be learned about jazz history
and its early development from the story of the
Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and fortunately a
reassessment of its contributions is already
underway. if we are serious about understanding the
culture which produced jazz in New Orleans, then it
is incumbent upon us to broaden our horizons to
include each and every thread in this complex
tapestry. The Italian connection was but one strand
of many, yet the presence of Italian musicians in so
many of the early New Orleans jazz bands tells us

that It was a significant factor in the development of
the music and deserves recognition. la Rocca and
Sbarbaro with the ODJB, Roppclo with NORK, Curly
Uzana with the New Orleans Jazz Babies, Charlie
Cordilla with the Halfway House Orchestra, or the
subsequent activities of Joseph "Wingy" Manone,
Sharky Bonano, Tony Parenti, louis Prima, Irving
Fazola (an honorary Italian), and others all attest to
an Italian jazz connection which was deep and
abiding. To dismiss any of this body of wane as
imitative or derivative is to appease the critic at the
expense of the historian and to remove from
discussion some of the music's most colorful and
charismatic personalities.

Bruce Boyd Raeburn

Brunn, H.O. The Story at tfJe Original Dixieland Jazz.
Band (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1960),
Jazzmen. Charles Edward Smith and Frederic
Ramsey, Jr., eds. (New York: Harcourt, Brace &
Co., 1939),
Levin, Floyd, 'Mystery Shrouds Kid Ory 1920s
LA. Recordings," West Coast Rag
(November 1990): 17-20.
Manetta, Manuel. Taped interview, March 21,
1957, Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University.
Menville, Myra 'Wiggs - Self-Explained,' The
Second Line, 29 (Spring 1977): 3-13.
New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 15, 1917.
New Orleans TimeS-Picayune, August 8,1917.
Welbum, Ronald G. American Jazz Criticism,
1914-1940. Unpublished Ph.D, dissertation,
New York University, 1983.